Writing update (mopey)

I’m in a strange place writing-wise. I could blame dog-house-move but I think I’d be working on TFN2 even so if I was enthusiastic about it.

Instead I feel stuck wondering if it’s worth going on. The depression I anticipated coming with quitting seems to be focused around feeling like I’m an insignificant ant with nothing to make me stand out from the crowd of nobodies and wannabes. My blog posts aren’t entertaining enough, my stories aren’t gripping enough, I don’t have the artistic or technical skills to make other kinds of projects stand out.

The beta reader situation is as follows: 2 readers have completed it, with minimal comments and general praise. 2 readers are very slowly slogging through it (that is, less than halfway through after a month or two). 2 readers have it but have not yet started it (as far as I know). Of the readers, one finished is my husband and one is somebody who may or may not prefer that genre, but I think enjoys close cousins of the genre. Of the sloggers, one definitely doesn’t read the genre, and one does. Of the yet-to-readers, I think both are familiar with the genre.

I think about this stuff because it matters to how I weight reactions. While my husband is an invaluable resource in improvements, he has reasons other than ‘this is a good story’ to encourage me to go on with the project. (Admittedly, probably so does everybody else involved, but less immediate day-to-day reasons.)

Originally, I was going to do the three books of the trilogy because it was going to be good practice. And I still think three practice novels is a good idea.  I’m just no longer convinced a trilogy is right. I mean, if the idea just isn’t working, maybe I should put it aside and start fresh? So I have a chance to apply my studies to multiple kinds of stories?

This might just be mid-story writer sloggy-slog-slogness. No longer fresh and shiny, still lots of work. I dunno. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent book 1 out for comments and feedback. Previously trying to get midstory feedback has been a mistake… I guess I thought it would be different because it was a whole book, darn it. And I’d done some pretty crazy things in it and I /really/ wanted to know if they worked.

Mope mope. Stay tuned for something more interesting though. Well, as interesting as I can make these things.

OK, here I am again.

I’ve put together a schedule for myself. Not quite the cold hard numbers of Holly Lisle, but goals, anyhow. My instinct says that I’m way too loose on the development and way too tight on the production, but instinct wasn’t quite in tune with reality last time.

So I’m trying something new this time; it’s my goal to have every question except ‘how do I phrase this to sound good’ answered before I start writing the draft. I spent far too puzzling out details and inventing sources of tension, and while I think it turned out okay, it was slow as hell. It was also really intimidating trying to manage my wordcount when I had no idea what to write (and really satisfying when I did). I spent a long time in development last round but it was lazy work and I goofed off a lot. It’s my hope to actually put every day to use, this time. And hopefully this will also cut down on the consistency revision work, because I’ll improooooove ideas before I write them down.

As for the production phase, I’ve got a lot of words crammed into a small number of days: almost 2k, every day. Even with a detailed outline I’m dubious about getting that amount of typing in on every single day. I’ve scheduled myself no vacations, no weekends, which I think is okay for development but unrealistic for the physical demands of producing prose.But all that’s assuming I’m on the same schedule I am now. If that happens to be true, I’d add another month each for Production and Revision. But I dearly hope that by then, the Plan my housemates and I have put together will be in full swing. If it is, I should be able to get enough prose production done to squeeze some days off in there.

Development Deadline: September 1 (52 days)
Goal: 28,500 words

Today (7/11): This schedule
7/12: Revise Brief Synopsis (~500)
7/13-7/19: Worldbuild Major Locations (~5000)
7/20-7/26: Detail major character plot arcs (~5000)
7/27-9/1: Write detailed outline (~18000)

Production Deadline: Nov 1 (61 days)
9/1-11/1: Expand outline into 110k rough draft.

Consistency Revision Deadline: Dec 1 (30 days)
11/1-11/8: Read, handwrite notes.
11/9-11/30: Type In.

A few days after

It took a few days before I remembered that I wasn’t writing the current novel to write a good novel, I was writing it to learn about process. This allowed me to restore a modicum of rationality to my life. That is, it allowed me to stop obsessing constantly over whether it was good, and whether or not the way my beta readers were getting distracted while reading it was a bad thing and if so if I should just give up immediately.

I don’t know what I’ll do to become sane again when I can’t use the excuse ‘I wasn’t trying to produce a great salable novel anyhow.’.

In any case, I’m taking a bit of a break to decompress. I found the new Inform 7 language for writing more Interactive Fiction and it’s quite fun to read and play with. And I’m already thinking about the new Neverwinter Nights toolset. And in a few days I’ll get back on the horse and start seriously outlining Book 2. Which I really need a name for. I think I’ll even give myself a wordcount daily quota for the outline stage. In this version, my goal is to outline enough that the flow of my writing is never broken by trying to figure out what happens next. I spend enough time choosing the right words even when I know exactly what I want to happen. Oh, and to add more exposition. Apparently I’m weak on exposition. Too much show, not enough tell. Can you imagine? Oh, and to remember that tension doesn’t always mean conflict.

Massive Mysterious Procrastination

So, more weird quirks of my hand-edits:

Sometimes I write new lines above an existing paragraph. I don’t scribble out the old paragraph. Do I want to replace the paragraph? I think so. And if not, I draw a line pointing at where I want to insert it.

I do a lot of big scribbling out. I scribble out words, I mark out lines and paragraphs. I draw lines pointing to the back side of sheets.

Oh, so the massive mysterious procrastination was screwing around with titles. I have two sets. I’m not really happy with either of them, although I did decide that, in keeping with the codename ‘TFN’, the set of books will be called ‘The Trilogy of X’. No dancing around it with ‘Chronicles’ or ‘Song’ or ‘Saga’! Well, at least in my personal notes. I am aware that agents and publishers change titles with calculated abandon.

The first set:

  1. Citadel of the Sky
  2. Thrones of the Firstborn (not perfect, as is also title am using to refer to series at the moment)
  3. Sword of the Eldest (also not perfect but has some subtle appropriateness)

The second set:

  1. Phantasmagory
  2. Aegis (kind of… bland and short)
  3. Tenebrescence (I think the problem with this one is apparent, even if it fits)

I have a WIP called Xiphotologos. I invented that word, sort of. Unlike any of the above. Honest.

The current trilogy name I have poked at is ‘Trilogy of Ghosts and Shadows’. Which isn’t grrreat, partially because it’s not quite what I want and partially because there are like a million Knights of Ghosts and Shadows out there. No joke. Try google. But hey, it’s not Creatures of Light And Darkness!

Type-in Sucks

So, first of all, I revised the setting a tiny bit after I started the type-in.

Second of all, I locked myself out of my computer all day on Sunday, by accident.

Third of all, writing the new scenes is a lot harder than I thought it would be, even with my outlines. At least, the first one was. It stalled me for 2 days. I’ve added about 2500 words just from that. I’m not sure if it has enough tension or contributes enough to the plot, but I wrote it for sharing more about the setting so… guess we’ll see.

Fourth, it’s all too easy to slip into simply rereading and editing on the fly. That is, not looking at my handnotes. I’m having to force myself to skip any text without ink next to it. This isn’t a final polish; it’s wart-removal and tightening and consistency. If I didn’t think it was worth writing ink on, I can’t allow myself to spend time thinking about rephrasings now. I have a deadline. It may be a personal deadline and I may have to extend it a couple of days but it’s a deadline. Gotta stick to it.

Fifth, my notes are incomprehensible. I can usually puzzle out my handwriting, but sometimes I’ll come across three different revisions for the same line scribbled in the margin, or a random expository note with no indicators or hints as to where I wanted it to go (and it doesn’t really seem appropriate anywhere).

Sixth, I’m going through a massively insecure phase right now, because of the clusterfuck my interview turned into– oh yes, it got bad. I didn’t go into detail at first because, you know, burning bridges is bad and all– but on Friday an epilogue to the whole mess occurred that made it clear there weren’t many bridges left to burn. I was officially categorized not as not just ‘not as much what we wanted as this other guy’ but ‘totally worthless to us’.

Now, I know rationally it was politics of a sort at work. That I was a shoo-in for the role, if not as first choice then as second choice. But politics and social confusion reigned, the person who made the final decision had no interest in my qualifications, and I got pushed aside. However… I don’t really run on what’s rational. So… I feel pretty bad. I’m wondering if my estimates of my own competence are way off base. I thought I was in a good position for that job, right? Just like I think I’ve got what it takes to be a pretty good writer.

Anyhow, such crazy irrational fears are also slowing down the type-in.

Hand edits done.

I had a job interview at Flying Lab today, as a mission designer on Raymond’s team. The content lead and one of the other mission designers interviewed me. Unfortunately, I got the ol’ ‘cut the interview off long before it was scheduled to end’ and indeed, they decided to hire the person they interviewed yesterday instead, because he had industry experience, and apparently I wasn’t giving the answers they were looking for.
I’m upset. Kevin and Raymond have a plan, though. It’s one that I suggested, but not one I’ve been able to really wrap my head around yet. We’ll see if they’re still willing to go through with it in a few days.

Anyhow, I finished my hand edits on the manuscript. Now the type-in. It feels good to reach a milestone, though, to come once again to the end of the story. Might have more to say tomorrow on some of the complications of ending the first book in a tightly-connected trilogy, if I remember, but for now it’s 2 AM and I’ve had a long day.

On revision, and characters ‘taking over’.

I’m working through a hard part at the moment, the end of a set of scenes that dragged me down for almost two months back in December and January. I’m cutting a lot of fumbling around as my characters try to figure out what to do.

I also cut a vast amount of words that amounted to a major secondary character telling me how much she hated the role she’d been placed in. I remember being surprised by her attitude when I wrote it, and upon getting to it in the revision… well, it’s dull. The end of the previous scene serves as a great place to end a ‘part 1’ of the story– it’s the end of the first act for the entire trilogy and almost exactly halfway through the novel– and this character’s scene represents an almost seamless flow between one scene and the next. But really, it’s dull. She goes places and talks to people she’s not very connected to, and feels sorry for herself. So, I cut it. I don’t think it accomplished anything. I may turn a previous scene from her PoV into one from the PoV of another character present, because it would be easy, and remove her PoV entirely from this novel. Her personal plot doesn’t really kick in until the second book, anyhow. I think there’s one more scene from her PoV, and it also consists of her observing more integral characters and brooding. I just can’t figure out what’s achieved by all the brooding. And it’s all off-script, too. It’s the result of me floundering for content, in sections I assigned…

Actually, that was apparently a bonus section I felt compelled to write that wasn’t even in the outline. So is the upcoming scene from her PoV. I wonder what I was thinking? Well, I’ve taken it into consideration that she hates her life, contrary to plan, but I think that this is also a lesson about letting characters have their head. Heck, I can’t even stay on topic in a blog post without some sort of guiding line.
I know I never even bothered to write another scene late in the novel that I DID assign, since it seemed to be entirely ‘show this third character reacting to news of the other character’s actions’. It felt like if there was no movement in it, it could be cut. What I’ve had to do a couple of times, and boy is it hard, is invent movement to pair with exposition.

I’ve also had to do a lot of updating to keep a few minor characters in line with their personalities, and keep the dialogue and expectations in line with what I eventually decided was true. Since the role of the Blood changed somewhat from beginning to end, there’s a lot of that, and I actually had to cut the end of the scene that led into the PoV I cut entirely. It featured one of my favorite characters acting incredibly out of character, yelling at my protagonist. Had to fix that and it was no longer appropriate for him to be scolding her, in any case. I’m a little worried that I’m removing sources of tension and conflict, and I’ll regret it. I’m also worried about trimming sheer wordcount, since I don’t know how many words the new scenes I’ve outlined will amount to. Sometimes I’m afraid that my story being so short means I just don’t have what it takes. My hope is that the story will feel more focused and thus be stronger but it’s incredibly hard to see the forest for the trees right now.

On a more positive note, I studied some of my favorite author last night and decided to borrow his method of providing a break between scenes and doing worldbuilding. It’s flat exposition, but I’ve decided that flat exposition from a distant third person narrator is much better than close third person exposition of a character thinking about something. It makes stuff feel stronger and closer rather than filtered through a distinct PoV. In general I’m less and less in favor of characters thinking about things. Anyhow, I think this is the first time I’ve lifted a recognizable stylistic element. I’m kind of pleased, actually. Writing-types always say writing like other people is an early part of finding your own voice, and I’ve never been able to figure out HOW to write like other people. I’m also going to keep in mind what Jenna told me about my Writing Descriptions post down yonder.

I write in close third person by default, because it echoes my observations of other people. I’ve often got a running commentary inside about what I believe somebody else is thinking. And while this is interesting to me as it happens, it turns out it doesn’t really snag me when I’m reading it. I like dialogue, I like physical manifestations of emotions, I like conflict with somebody else, all a whole lot more than reading about the highs and lows of somebody’s emotional state (described as such, even: ‘Her frustration spiked but she took a deep breath and calmed herself down’).

I remember a discussion a year or more ago about writing in fanfic vs the standard ‘good writing sense’. Somebody was complaining that JK Rowling never added any close emotional observations to her dialogue attribution (see my example above but add ‘and said’), while her favorite fanfic writers did, and she’d grown to expect and enjoy those details; they added depth to the character-interaction-focused stories that she favored. Somehow romance novels came up, with the suggestion that they actually do utilize more of the close emotional observation. I wonder if that’s true.

Anyhow, this is long enough, and I hope to get another 70 pages (or more) editted today. I think the type-in is going to take a lot longer than the weekend+ I’ve got allocated to it. So the sooner I finish trudging among the trees, the better.

Help Me Name Magic

In my current novel, there are certain people who can access a shared dreamscape. This dreamscape is called ‘the phantasmagory’.

Most of the people who can access the phantasmagory can also manifest things from the phantasmagory in the real world. I have been calling this, generally, ‘phantasm magic’ or just ‘phantasms’.

These manifestations are able to affect the real world, are immune to other forms of magic, and look dreamy and unreal. Sometimes they’re transparent, and of variable solidity.
The most basic form of manifestation is a critter or object. For example, Danika the Witch’s most basic manifestation is a crow. She can manifest up to five of these, controlling them in a formation directly. They can’t go further than a mile or so away before dissolving.

At more advanced levels, Danika can imbue one or more of these crows with a shard of her own will, perception and intellect. This makes it able to feel pain, and able to act autonomously, usually as a really smart magical animal with a set of detailed orders. The effect on Danika is much like taking a single dose of those medications that say ‘don’t operate heavy machinery’. She could theoretically do that to all five crows, and this would leave her practically insenate, unable to move or defend herself.

When an autonomous crow returns to her, it merges with her form, and she gains her shard of self back, along with perfect recollection of all of the crow’s experiences. If it is destroyed before returning to her, she gains only fractured set of impressions.
Also at more advanced levels, Danika can alter the form of her manifestations. She can make them larger or smaller, or in another shape entirely.

At very high levels of skill, Danika is able to mostly divorce the effects of her manifestations from the shape and capabilities of a critter. There are visible traces of the source of the effects, like smudges on the air, or ghostly rainbows, but for the most part, she has effectively achieved the kind of telekinesis we find in X-Men.

Now: I have been calling the critters ‘phantasm constructs’ or ‘phantasm beasts’, and the telekinesis ‘phantasmal forces’. I’m pretty unhappy with those terms because they’re unwieldy and kind of lame. Help me pick better terms!

For the critters, I’ve thought of the following; pick one or suggest your own:

  1. Totems
  2. Soulbeasts
  3. Chimerae
  4. Eidolons (which is, yes, a real word as well as something that shows up in FF)
  5. Shadows
  6. ???

For the phantasmal forces, I’ve had fewer ideas, and none of ’em really strike a chord:

  1. Animations
  2. Fields
  3. Worldbinding
  4. ???